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White Noise: March 2012

Friday, 30 March 2012

Feature: Vocal Exercises

Vocal sampling. The act of cutting a human voice from source audio and repurposing it in a new piece of music. It’s become fairly normal to hear a vocal sample adding an edge of humanity to a dance or electronic track at the moment, but how did vocal sampling become what it is today? And what exactly is it today? In this feature I want to examine what different producers are doing with vocals at the moment and why, but in order to do that we need to start at the beginning.

Royal House – Can You Party (1988)

I’m not going to get into discussing breakbeats or sampling itself, because there has already been plenty of interesting discourse on the subject. The first examples of vocal sampling in dance music seem to be in the Acid and Chicago House tracks of the late 80s. Once hardware had become complex enough to sample voices, songs started to emerge where vocals were sampled and manipulated rather than a vocalist having to physically record their voice for each track. These tended to be in the stuttered, repetitive vocal phrases that populated the genre, look at any of Todd Terry’s classic productions for reference points.

Youngbloods – Got Me Burnin’ Up (1991)

This technique was taken further in the East-coast sound of the early 90s, with the emergence of what we now know as Garage. By this point the actual words sampled tended to be an exciting or catchy line that would ramp up anticipation and enjoyment on the dancefloor, but at the same time the samples started to become used more and more as hooks and percussive elements as we recognise them today, removed from their original context and meaning. On Nightcrawlers’ Push The Feeling On (The Dub Of Doom) we can hear and early example of a vocal that has lost all meaning, used purely as a catchy melodic element. Although this sounds fairly average by today’s standards, one can imagine how it might be strange to have a human voice there that was manipulated into a form where it is impossible to discern the words, in what can essentially be seen as a levelling of the human voice into a base musical element. Of course this was nothing new considering the amount of wordless song that have existed throughout the ages, from pagan chants to choirs, but it was the first time that a vocal that once had meaning was deliberately manipulated through electronics to lose that meaning, and then repurposed as just another instrument.

Nightcrawlers – Push The Feeling On (The Dub of Doom) (1992)

From the beginning of sampling in the US, I now want to move on and focus this feature on the UK dance scene. The root of vocal sampling as we now know it in the Bass music scene is most clearly grounded in UK Garage, which took the aforementioned sounds of Todd Terry and co and gave them a hard UK edge, as well as pushing vocal manipulation a lot further than it had ever gone before. Artists like Todd Edwards and Tuff Jam cut up multiple vocal samples and laced them together to form the melodic core of their tracks, retaining the warmth of the human voice (especially important in their dark Garage soundscapes) while stripping away any meaning whatsoever, and letting the sample work just as another element in the sound.

Tuff Jam – Key Dub (1999)

As UK Garage charted a slow shift towards Dubstep in the British underground, use of vocals diminished. Excepting occasional use of brooding voices, early Dubstep was characterised by the space and darkness of its sound, and although UK Garage-style sampling continued in some respects, the technique was not furthered in a major way for several years.

Burial - Archangel (2007)

The next producer to really hit the Electronic mainstream with innovative sampling was Burial, a producer I’m sure you all know well. Although his sources were nothing new, he used his samples to evoke a melancholy and darkness rather than a catchy hook, which was unusual at the time. Added to this, he expressed a fondness for pitching male voices up and female voices down to create “sexy vibe” and an ambiguity of gender, another technique that is fairly commonplace by now. Burial  stated while discussing the early UK Garage scene in a 2007 interview with The Wire, “I’d love these vocals that would come in, not proper singing but cut-up and repeating, and executed coldly. It was like a forbidden siren.” It’s a simple description for a musical technique that has accelerated Burial to Electronic stardom, where he introduced samples just as much to highlight absence as their presence, as can be seen in a 2009 interview with Fact; “That’s the sound I love…like embers in the tune…little glowing bits of vocals…they appear for a second, then fade away and you’re left with an empty, sort of air-duct sound…something that’s eerie and empty.”

XI - Squeeze (2012)

Fast forward to the last few years, and vocal sampling is everywhere. There are more producers than you can count who wield their samples to achieve the same effect as Burial, as well as a few others who have taken his style even further into the dark. See for example XI’s recent single Squeeze, in which a super-clipped vocal sample is treated and "de-oxygenated” (as RA described it) in a fashion that highlights a humanity and warmth that has been stripped away, strengthening the menacing, inhuman feel to its tough percussive workout. XI further dehumanizes the voice by pitching it up and down to form a skipping melodic variation, proving how far a voice can be taken from its original meaning and humanity. It is curious to imagine that a producer would choose to add a person’s voice which makes a song feel less human, but it is a potent tool which adds to the paranoid power of the track.

Brenmar - Temperature Rising (2011)

Producers are now using cut-up vocals not just to express a human touch to contrast a moody soundfield, as Burial did, but to other purposes. In Temperature Rising Brenmar was just one of many producers who twinned choppy RnB vocals with fast-tempo Bass production to demonstrate a silky, overt sex appeal, while in the second You on Gold Panda’s Lucky Shiner album, a single-word vocal sample repeats to a powerfully mournful effect. It’s clear this particular style of vocal sampling can be manipulated to evoke almost any emotion the producer wants.

Gold Panda – You (2010)

Joy Orbison - Hyph Mngo (2009)

Nowadays the current Bass scene is saturated with artists cutting up RnB and Funk vocals to varying degrees of success, but it begs the question of why an artist would prefer to chop up their vocals than leave them as whole phrases. Two plausible answers occur to me, the first musical and the second more based in meaning. Some producers use cut up vocals almost as a human alternative to a synth, as merely another musical tool to be manipulated and sequenced into the melody of a track. In a song like Disclosure’s i love...that you know or Joy Orbison's classic Hyph Mngo, a heavily treated vocal line, with the actual words often  (or completelyindiscernible, forms the central hook of the track. It’s an interesting idea to remove meaning from words to just hear the melody of language, and a producer’s willingness to just let a manipulated vocal line be the core of a track is intriguing, trading the meaning of words for their musicality.

Benjamin Damage & Doc Daneeka – Halo feat. Abigail Wyles (2012)

The second reason I can think of to chop vocals in this way is to do with the meaning and emotion evoked by the words in the listener. Simply put, if a vocal is treated so the words are difficult to make out, then it’s likely that the listener will attribute their own language and meaning to the song. The result of this is that the song forces no specific emotion on the listener, more a general mood, to which the listener can attribute the words and sentiment that personally suit them at the time. It is irrelevant to consider whether this is a case of the listener subconsciously ‘hearing what they’re feeling’ in terms of language or if it’s a more conscious process of application, because either way by becoming linguistically ambiguous, a song actually increases its emotive scope. Benjamin Damage and Doc Daneeka’s Halo is a perfect example of this, with Abigail Wyles’ muffled vocals freely interpretable by the listener as long as their chosen meaning suits the subdued vibes of the song. It seems almost paradoxical that by making a voice less recognisably human you can actually increase its emotional appeal, but this is the intriguing effect of a lot of contemporary electronic music.

Wolfgang Voigt – Kafkatrax 2.1 (2011)

With the rapid development of audio manipulation tools, the use of vocal samples is now only really limited by the producer’s imagination. There are only two ways to push the use of these samples; forward and backward, and there are great contemporary producers pursuing the path in both directions. For an example of someone pushing use of vocals forward into more extreme territory, one need look no further than legendary German producer Wolfgang Voigt, who many of you will know as Ambient Techno producer Gas and the head of Cologne-based label Kompakt. In his recent Kafkatrax series, Voigt producer a series of tracks comprised solely of vocals cut and treated from a Kafka audiobook excepting the inclusion of a single kick drum. The result is as cerebral and successful as any of Voigt’s work, the vocals assembled into deep, hypnotic Techno with some sounds still recognisable as human voice and others so far removed as to sound like they were recorded entirely from a synthesiser.  This is, in some ways, the upper limit of that trade-off between musicality and meaning, the press release states that the use of Kafka, “is entirely meaningless to the final musical product – Voigt is only interested in the sound of recited vocal text.”

Doc Daneeka & Abigail Wyles – Tobyjug (2012)

On the opposite end of the spectrum, there are producers who traditionally used samples that are now drafting in vocalists to sing original vocal tracks for their Electronic productions. Doc Daneeka, who built his reputation on hard-bodied UK Funky and Bass music, reigned in the force of his productions and once more collaborated with vocalist Abigail Wyles to produce the Electronic soul ballad Tobyjug, in which he allows her voice to take centre-stage, lyrics and all. There is certainly a trend emerging of vocalists being called in for Dance and Electronic productions, from the poppier end of the spectrum with Jessie Ware (recently produced for by Julio Bashmore), to Funky muse Fatima, to SBTRKT favourite Sampha.

SBTRKT – Hold On (feat. Sampha) (2011)

So on one side we now have experimental tracks entirely made of vocals, and on the other producers are returning to the historic technique of inviting original vocalists to feature in tracks, not to mention the thousands of producers working and sampling somewhere between the two extremes. It’s important to realise that those that feature vocalists shouldn’t be seen as regressive in any way, Dance music has always run in cycles with techniques going in and out of fashion, and furthermore the application of new styles of Electronic production mean the results sound nothing like the 20-year old songs that used live vocals in a similar fashion. It’s impossible to predict where vocal sampling can go from here, but considering the resourcefulness of producers in using the human voice as a tool so far in Electronic music, it’s probably best to not have any specific expectations. The world of Electronic music moves so fast and offers so many surprises that you probably won’t have to wait too long to find out anyway.

First Choice – Let No Man Put Asunder (1977) 

Before the playlist, I'll leave you with this First Choice classic, almost every single line of which has been sampled in one dance track or another. See how many you can recognise. Also, listen out for a very early example of vocal manipulation at the end of the track.

I hope you’ve enjoyed the discussion on vocal sampling, included below is a selection of a few tracks from the last few months that have used vocals in particularly interesting or gratifying ways. Enjoy!


Bondax – All Inside
Arthur Beatrice – Midland (Bwana Remix)
Shlohmo – Wen Uuu
Airhead – Wait
Lianne La Havas – Forget (Shlohmo Remix)
Above & Beyond – Love Is Not Enough (Synkro Remix)
Burial – Ashtray Wasp

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Wednesday, 28 March 2012

2562 – Air Jordan

Label: When In Doubt

Even in a musical world saturated by quality producers who have been knocking out classics since way back when, Dave Huismans is different. Alright, he hasn’t been around for quite as long as some, but Huismans has some legendary producers more than beat in terms of innovation. Kicking off by expanding Dubstep’s narrowing horizons as 2562, he then proceeded to release a slew of releases under this moniker and as A Made Up sound, the latter generally attached to genre-defying dance singles that always stood out from the crowd. A Made Up Sound’s last release was the remarkably unique Take The Plunge, which paired glitchy synth loops with a loping Techno skeleton to stellar effect. His last outing as 2562, however, was the entirely sampled-based Fever, in which he cut up snippets of old Disco records and dextrously repurposed them into something more colourful but still clearly Huismans’ own. This latest release, Air Jordan, is similarly made up from samples, but that’s where the similarities end. Every sample on this EP was field recorded by 2562 on a recent trip to Jordan, and the end result is a more spacious, dark, and altogether intriguing release than its predecessors.

Solitary Sheepbell

Why is it necessary to have quite so much backstory on a producer in a review for a 4-track EP? To explain Huismans’ galloping rate of innovation in Electronic music is also to understand a little better how experimentalism works in the dance world. When one thinks of Techno experimentalists, names like Demdike Stare and Sandwell District come to mind, who took to more abstract compositional structures, beatless expanses, unusual noises and rips of static. Air Jordan charts a cultural experimentation just as much as a sonic one; as the listener realises that these otherworldly sounds and samples are actually from this world, just not a part of it they’re necessarily familiar with. 2562 draws a real sense of menace and isolation out of these samples, while spoken-word, animal and instrumental samples lend the sound an unmistakably Middle-Eastern flavour. It could almost be compared to Onra’s Chinoiseries LP in the sense of a willingness to look out to the world beyond to broaden musical horizons, rather than just delving deeper into the hardware. I’d argue that a cross-cultural experiment is not only more accessible, but also truer to the idea of what experimentalism is.

Jerash Hekwerken

As could be expected from a producer of 2562’s calibre, this is no mere shuffling of field samples. On each of the four tracks on offer here, a familiar element of his sound is re-examined through different base components and textures, resulting in an immersive and original set which still feel like 2562. Although first track Solitary Sheepbell is beatless, it’s not an inconsequential ambient opener. The track is a collage of finely applied textures, conjuring vivid imagery of the stark isolation of some of the country’s locales with bell sounds chiming at a range of pitches over a fizzing bed of ambient mist and effects that sound a little like insects manoeuvring in the distance.

Second cut Desert Lament is an assault of dusty percussive layers built into a thrilling whiplash drum pattern. There’s a real richness to the samples that shines on a strong soundsystem, with a killer sub-bass setting off forest sounds and extending the shadowy atmosphere. On the next track, Jerash Hekwerken, Huismans twins a deadly rolling drum loop with tight vocal work, crafting what is arguably the EP’s standout track. As with the best Electronic tunes, the devil is in the details, and the reverb that offsets the beats or the masterful vocal manipulation around the two-minute mark have to be heard to be fully appreciated. Although the tracks don’t strike the listener immediately as club tunes, I’d imagine the rattling bass and complex drum patterns could go down a storm on the dancefloor, especially in a darker Techno mix.

Nocturnal Drummers

The extended final track, Nocturnal Drummers, sends the EP off in style, relying on a meticulous drum loop that snakes hypnotically past a broad range of nuanced samples and textures across its 8-minute runtime. It also proves as a fitting summary of 2562’s success in bridging cultures through the prism of his own personal experience, and in doing so crafting a set of four masterful tracks that are interesting, evocative, and deeply inviting.


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Monday, 26 March 2012

Lorca – Can’t See Higher / Missed Me

Label: Dummy

Brighton-based Lorca (apparently named after the houseboat he once lived on) is a relative newcomer, with only a split-EP release with Visionist on Left_Blank to his name, but on his first solo release on Dummy he shows strong production chops for a fresh producer. I wouldn’t be the first to say that we’ve had an awful lot of chopped up RnB vocals going around but Lorca makes them work, demonstrating on both tracks a keen ability to use sounds and tropes that saturate today’s dance scene but keep them sounding fresh and strong.

Can’t See Higher

Can’t See Higher is a near-anthemic peak track, with acoustic drums rolling under a Joy O-style synth synthline before it establishes a powerful groove, with the vocal sample extending ecstatically over the course of the track. It all comes together rather beautifully with a masterful sense of tension and release, tunnelling synths and a perfect plateau of a breakdown introducing the tune’s upbeat second half.

Missed Me

B-side Missed Me is the slow-burn cut of the two, with more rich percussion introducing a perfect synth hum that underpins the track along with a simple but effective bass progression. There’s something woozy and relaxed about the track that is rare (and welcome) in a cut that still demonstrates a strong dance focus, perfectly exemplified by the breathy breakdown that emotes quietly and confidently to great effect. Both tracks here demonstrate a powerful grasp over mood and a clear understanding of what kills on the dancefloor on this great debut, and I’m more than a little eager to see what Lorca comes up with next.


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Wednesday, 21 March 2012

Duct – Circles

Label: Shades of Grey

There tends to be a distinction in dance music between artists who create precise, finely wrought music and those who create club-demolishing peak tracks, with the former rarely packing as much energy while the latter infrequently offering as much subtlety and enjoyment to the listener off the dancefloor. Here on his first release on nascent London label (and club night) Shades of Grey, headman Luke Harris does an astonishing job of combining the two; crafting a collection of delicate and nuanced tunes that still pack a massive punch.

EP Clips

Maybe I’m just surprised because this is the first I’ve heard of Duct, or because the first time I listened to these tunes they didn’t hit me all that hard, but on repeated listens (and a bigger system) every track here shines bright. All four tunes could find their rightful place somewhere in a club, but two stand out as more overtly dancey than the others. First cut Jessica’s Garden is one such track, launching right into a fantastic groove with clean tropical beats and a rising bassline. Each sound that Duct uses feels carefully treated and applied to his tracks, meaning that the tunes are consistently varied and interesting. By the midway point of Jessica’s Garden we have not only the beats, synths, and drowned vocal line but also a sampled half-gasp, blips of static that tear through the fabric of the track and a whole range of clever details (one-off vocals, birdsong) that compliment the breakdown. If one word springs to mind more than any other to describe Duct’s production, it’s ‘tight’. The sense of timing is impeccable throughout, building tension and releasing it as if effortlessly, with clean, rounded sounds giving the tracks a real sense of depth and power. The most impressive of Circles’ dance offerings is third cut Love Crazy, which builds slowly over distant vocals, complex drum patterns and an occasional synth line that sears across the track, leaving bright traces. Back-and-forth synth sweeps move from bassline to melody and back again, until eventually the track drops, releasing its coiled-up momentum expertly. Again it’s the details that make the track so impressive, particularly how the track builds masterfully towards the second drop; the vocal spiralling faster and faster, a rising acid-line out of nowhere, one beat of silence before the track falls satisfyingly back into place.

Of the two other tracks, Blackheath could still justifiably be danced to. Here reverb-drenched chimes create a powerful mood, duelling with clipped percussive samples, the occasional entrance of Bristolian Dubstep jabs and a half-heard vocal in the second half of the track. In the shorter closer Pensive Stare Duct shows a similarly keen eye for atmosphere, with an intensely deep bass sequence underpinning bright synths and clattering yet precise beats. Apparently Harris spends his time teaching others to craft Electronic beats and music, and this experience is on display throughout Circles; a gorgeous collection of tight, restrained and masterful tunes that will keep you coming back again and again.


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Monday, 19 March 2012

Airhead – Wait / South Congress

Label: R&S

Robert McAndrews, aka Airhead, hasn’t been around for too long, with a notable compilation release on last year’s IOTDXI and a few remixes, but with Wait / South Congress, his debut release on R&S, he’s sure to make a splash. Here he continues to hone his sound; coupling textured beats with warm analogue field and record sampling, and has succeeded in creating a dazzling and utterly unique set of songs that I’d highly recommend.


Any expectations based on R&S’ previous output should be shrugged off before listening, because these tracks owe just as much to the Californian Beats scene and even Post Rock as they do to UK dance music. If this doesn’t discourage you, then the tracks are more than worth a listen, with A-side Wait ranking easily amongst the best tunes released so far this year. The track announces itself uneasily with confused samples clouding the soundfield, almost as if the vocal and percussive samples used later in the track are warming up for the big show. The core of the track is an assimilation of Karen O samples from the Yeah Yeah Yeah’s tunes, notably the famous Maps, and they are applied here with care and skill. A loping beat pattern is built out of drums that sound like pistons, letting out a warm hiss every so often. As the tune continues the listener is treated to some beautiful and intimate guitar strumming, climaxing in a transcendent melody that will sweep all but the most hardened away in its wake. It’s hard to describe just what makes this track so special; whether it’s the careful and detailed collage of samples, their spare implementation into an almost pop-like structure, or the gentle build to a satisfying crescendo, but there’s something emotive and warm about the tune, more than justifying its difference from R&S’ average releases.

South Congress

B-side South Congress uses similar tactics to a slightly colder effect without a vocal line, but remains an impressive piece, albeit slightly less substantial as a song. Again rich acoustic samples are manipulated to eke the most from their organic textures, so the muffled kicks and melancholy melody are more evocative than you might expect. Add to this a keen knack for ambient details and perfectly treated percussion and you’ve got a strong track, driven to a very Post Rock climax with roaring guitars that feels grand but worthwhile, never quite stepping into over-the-top territory. Both tracks here are intriguing and unique, the A-side proving one to particularly cherish,  and if you’re looking for something a little different and a great deal softer than your average Electronic fare, you can’t go wrong here.


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Friday, 16 March 2012

Doc Daneeka & Abigail Wyles – Tobyjug

Label: Ten Thousand Yen

Swansea-born Doc Daneeka threw up a bit of a curveball with his last LP, They!Live, released with Benjamin Damage in January on 50Weapons. Toning down his big drums and Tropical / Funky stylings, the album was a gorgeous mixture of downbeat Electronic compositions and sleek dance tracks. The undoubted highlights of They!Live definitely came in the form of the pair’s collaborations with vocalist Abigail Wyles, whose soulful voice was warped in No One and immersed in warm ambient fuzz in the gorgeous Halo.


Here Daneeka and Wyles continue their collaboration, in the semi-unexpected form of a soul ballad for the Electronic age. Although surprising, Tobyjug is an absolute triumph, Daneeka’s spare production tastefully complimenting Wyles’ emotive vocals and letting them soar. It’s a restrained affair, starting with pared-down bumps and clicks accompanying dusty piano chords, a confident move by Daneeka to let Wyles’ voice alone provide the song’s power and momentum. As her performance becomes stronger, the beats pick up and become more restless under their anaesthetised glaze, at every stage matching her intensity with constraint and skill. A low-key synth melody emerges to usher the song out and it stands alone; unique and moving, a tearjerker for the kids fed on 140BPM.

Tobyjug (Lando Kal Remix)

The flipside is an entirely different story. Daneeka made a wise move in leaving the remix duties to always-strong, always-strange producer Lando Kal, who really takes the tune into his own hands. What starts out as a subtle Techno number soon transforms into Kal’s trademark set of patchwork textures and samples, anchored by a lilting bassline and tight vocal clips. It’s almost unrecognisable from the original but a strong track in its own right, adding a real Dance drive to the release. This is a meticulously thought-out release, from the fantastic title track to the great choice of remixers, and if it’s the beginning of a long-standing collaboration, I can’t wait to see what comes next.


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October – String Theory

Label: Simple

Will Saul, of Aus Music fame and one of the finest DJs I’ve had the opportunity to see this year, discontinued his Simple Records label after the milestone of 50 vinyl releases last February. The story goes that after hearing Julian Smith’s latest creation as October, he decided to pull the label out of retirement just to release these fine cuts of off-kilter House music. It’s a nice background but only worthwhile if the music is up to scratch, and after listening to the two original cuts on String Theory it seems to me that Saul made the right move.

String Theory

Title cut String Theory is a perfect example of sunny-day House vibes, purpose-built for chilling and dancing outside on a summer’s day. Rich percussion lend the meandering track a lazy but clear momentum, paving the way for sampled bird calls and a satisfying bass loop. As the track gets under way these features are joined by a fantastically jazzy Rhodes sample that steals centre stage and makes this track a rather unique proposition, not to mention an essential listen. The second original cut, Tension Point, harks back more to October’s Bristol roots, with a much darker edge to the kicks and beats. The looped vocal sample – ‘I need to get away from all this tension’ – conjures a strong mood before being swept away by a striking bass bounce, later supplemented by smooth synth twinkles accenting the sound to lovely effect. It’s a great set of original cuts, each presenting a different mood while remaining mature, well-crafted and exciting.

Tension Point

On the flipside are two remixes courtesy of Danny Wolfers, under two different aliases. The first, under his most famous Legowelt guise, is more faithful to the original, pushing it into spacier territories with a strong synth loop establishing a nice groove. The second, as Polarius, is a much darker Techno cut, referencing moody Detroit sounds with strangely-treated synths rendering the original recognisable only by its beat and bird sounds. Both are interesting takes on the original, and while neither quite tops it, the first is a worthwhile listen in my book. If you check this EP out, it’ll be for the two great original cuts, the first of which will definitely be topping my plays when summer finally comes.


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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Hobo – Iron Triangle

Label: Minus

Canadian producer Joel Boychuk, aka Hobo, has been making Techno for a long time but has thus far slipped under my radar. Having split his youth between Canada and Detroit (perhaps two points of the symbolic Iron Triangle?), he shows a varied array of influences in these tunes, implementing clipped vocals and melodies atop curious mechanical beat patterns. The end result is a series of sinuous Techno grooves carved out of dark, well-tuned elements that remain surprisingly accessible considering how purpose-built they seem for gloomy dancefloors.

There’s a strong sense of mood across the album, with Boychuk particularly excelling at crafting more threatening atmospheres. For example, before opener Blackwell bursts into life it spends almost two minutes menacing at you with growling synths and horror-movie effects, which gave me genuine chills on first listen. Add to this how damn satisfying the beat is when it comes into play; heavy and precise, accompanied by a noir-ish synth twinkle, and you’ve already got a great tune. The sounds that come into play across the board are uniquely rich and varied; from the curious sci-fi bounce of Here Comes Everybody to the Burial-esque beats and textures of Ipperwash Dusk. Throughout the sounds are subtle and intricately applied to the tracks, making for an impressive listen as well as an enjoyable one.

The one thing that stood out to me with repeated listens is the excellent sense of pacing on display here. Every layer is exciting, and crucially, Hobo never frontloads his tracks. Take for example Camlachie, an early album highlight which bursts open powerfully with a savage sub-bass loop and tight beats. Only towards the half-way point do we begin to hear the rising synths that establish a stronger groove, accompanied by bursts of Electronic static and all manner of nuanced details, and you have to get a good five minutes into the track before a suffocated vocal sample emerges and a few more percussive loops finally complete the tune in its full glory. Because he spaces everything out perfectly, each track is worth listening to the whole way through, providing a consistently exciting and enjoyable experience as a listener.

Iron Triangle is a remarkably consistent listen throughout, with rarely a disappointing track to be found. But its consistency in some ways is also a flaw, all of the tracks are have a similar length, construction and tone, resulting in a slightly demanding listen that doesn’t relent or change that much across its course.  By the end of its lengthy 75 minute runtime you might find you’re not taking it all in as much, which is a shame because while the latter half of the album is not quite as remarkable, with a few missteps like the dreary clichés of Shadowz, it also bears a few real gems like the phenomenally powerful title track and head-bobbing closer Sundown which are really worth catching. My other issue is that the tightness and precision of these tracks can occasionally over repeated plays feel a little clinical and sanitized, and while this can sometimes result in a truly hypnotic effect, you might find yourself wishing some of the edges were a little less clean.

Despite these minor gripes, Iron Triangle is a surprising success, and Hobo quickly establishes a strong sound while offering a myriad of satisfying variations and detailed nuances. If you’re looking for a moody soundtrack to a walk at night or some late-night Techno to slot into a mix, you definitely won’t be disappointed by the fine craftsmanship and powerful grooves on offer in Iron Triangle.


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Monday, 12 March 2012

Akkord – Akkord001

Label: Akkord

Everything about this release is steeped in mystery; the label, the anonymous Manchester-based group that made it, and the curious sounds themselves, but this tight collection of darkly atmospheric jams more than speaks for itself without much need for contextualisation. For anyone interested in sourcing the group, links to the likes of Synkro and Indigo seem apt; precise and percussive tunes that evoke a spellbinding mood situated somewhere between slow-mo DnB, ambient and the more spacious and cerebral end of early 2000s Dubstep.

These tunes are finely woven webs of moody ambient synthwork, evocative vocal samples and spine-tingling beats, and are marked by a fine craftsmanship throughout. Opening track The Drums is a strong mission statement for the sound, building to a powerful mixture of meditative samples and satisfyingly punchy beats, penetrated by a stuttering bassline deep in the low end. It’s all pulled off with a rare force that really hits home, and the dreamy vocals combine with the darker instrumentation to achieve an effect that borders on the spiritual. Second cut Back & Forth is just as strong, with a rumbling low-end that references Objekt’s Cactus but so much more restrained, with carefully applied clicks and beats conjuring a vast sense of space. This would all make for a fine track but just over the halfway-point a stuttering vocal sample takes centre-stage with a deep reverberating bassline, creating a stunning and surprising crescendo that makes the track a real treat from start to finish.

Akkord keep up the high quality in final track Renewal, a more restless number that lays a bed of tightly woven synths to anchor attention-grabbing percussive snaps until it settles into a tense groove that references the dark Electro of Instra:mental if their work were moved from claustrophobic corridors to a vast, echoing chamber. As the sounds fade midway a deep bass wobble keeps the tension mounting through a long ambient breakdown, and tight layers are added and removed to keep the tune interesting right up until the end. It’s busier and almost serves as a culmination of the ideas presented across these three brilliant tracks, proving how a keen sense of space and timing can make all the difference between a good release and a great one.


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Friday, 9 March 2012

Scuba – Personality

Label: Hotflush

Hotflush label-head Paul Rose has moved from cerebral Dubstep pioneer to a ‘Big Name In Dance Music’ pretty swiftly over the last year or so, and so a lot of things have changed. Alongside his outspoken tweeting and expert label management he’s been charting a musical shift to parallel that of his own position in the dance sphere. Last year’s singles Loss (as SCB) and Adrenalin signalled a stark move away from the dark, heady sound of Scuba past and a clear stride towards the bombastic, ‘Big Club Music’ that we hear now in Personality. Change is always welcome, especially from a producer so established and talented, so the problems that this album potentially poses are less of not being experimental enough, and more of limiting excess and holding an album together coherently.

Scuba hinted at this monumental shift in last month’s single release of Hope, a balls-out House stomper that essentially beats the listener around the face with huge beats and roaring synths, even adding a deadpan, cliché-bating monologue to make the 90s club-referencing complete. It’s a track entirely devoid of subtleties, but when something is so expertly constructed and enjoyable to listen to, detail isn’t a big worry. The track, like much of this album, is clearly indebted to the upbeat, faintly tasteless club sounds of the late 90s, but as Rustie proved with last year’s phenomenal Glass Swords, re-appropriation of ‘uncool’ genres can be a killer tool.

On Personality, Scuba offers up big, muscular sounds that tend towards the sunny daze of the album cover but occasionally descend into colder, more mechanical territory. In a similar fashion, there are big Dance tunes and more chilled out tracks, with little in the way of a middle ground, and within each half there are successes and failures. For example, there are a few tunes that tread a broad, upbeat path, with bright 80s synths conjuring images of Miami in the sunshine. First track Ignition Key is a good example, following an extended (and kind of depressing) spoken-word intro with big, sharp chords and snappy percussion. Vocals are injected with style, carefully treading a line between a retro feel and contemporary filters. Out of any of Scuba’s earlier material it most recalls Adrenalin B-side Everywhere’s sun-bleached disco workout, and although it lacks the latter’s sense of tension it’s a good entrance point for such a big, fun album. Rose triumphs towards the close of the album in the same vein with standout track NE1BUTU, which builds with sharp, heavy beats and dreamy sun-drenched chords into the drop (‘never seen you break it down like this’) which is pure bliss with bright House chords, proving that even when Scuba goes all out he can still get it so right. Elsewhere these shiny tracks can wear a little thin, such as in July which starts promisingly with a bouncing bassline and iridescent synth stabs but then doesn’t really go anywhere.

This is the problem with Personality’s weaker tracks, they feel a little undercooked, as if the track’s second half is just left to repeat the first. For example while amongst the harder Techno-inflected numbers Underbelly is a subtle and muscular slow-burner and Cognitive Dissonance is an impressively moody exercise taking in Autonomic-style DnB with style, these tracks are accompanied by Action, a disappointingly thin slice of Dub Techno, and Gekko, a messy and overlong shifter that has no real sense of movement or progress.

Apart from the pure and sunny glory of NE1BUTU, Personality’s best moments are when Rose doesn’t choose quite so clearly between light and dark. Dsy Chn is an early highlight, an intriguing track with hefty beats and a perfectly-implemented array of clipped vocal samples scattered throughout the tune, particularly the male voice emerging and receding around halfway through the song, played perfectly against the ebb and flow of the instrumentation. Final track If U Want is another choice cut, with a simple bassline drawing a crowd of emotive chords and voices into the mix before it dissolves into a backmasked version of Rose’s introductory monologue.

As the track comes to a close, it’s hard to really know what to make about Personality as a whole, and that’s because it never quite comes together as an LP. The album jumps quite radically in both style and quality from track to track, and whilst they are all of a very high production quality, not all of the cuts on offer have enough substance to keep you listening. It’s encouraging to see a producer trying something so new, and there are some great songs here as well as a lot of fun, big-room killers, but some may miss the rewarded repeated listens and subtleties of Triangulations or A Mutual Antipathy. It’s clear that Scuba is capable of very great things and isn’t constrained by a specific genre or tone, so I’m happy to enjoy some of the tunes on here and see what he does next.


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Wednesday, 7 March 2012

LHF – EP3: Cities of Technology

Label: Keysound

London’s Lion Heart Foundation have attracted quite a bit of intrigue since their first EP; 2010’s Enter In Silence. Hailed as prominent examples of an Electronic sound  that belongs uniquely to London (finding their rightful place on Blackdown’s excellent Keysound label), the collective followed it up last January with EP2: The Line Path. Many have claimed LHF make music that seems a natural continuation of DMZ’s Dubstep sound before it was so crudely distorted into an over-the-top electronic mulch, but to label these tracks as Dubstep and leave it there would be doing these talented producers a disservice; ignoring Amen Ra’s brilliantly strange sounds or Low Density Matter’s spacious, jazz-inflected rhythms. Here on Cities of Technology they build up to a hotly-anticipated debut LP, and the group sounds not only as fantastic and curious as ever, but also more cohesive as a group than before.

Any fans of LHF’s previous output shouldn’t need to be told that each of these tracks is fantastically produced. Rich, dense textures are applied with a keen sense of timing, while the unique sounds used and constantly innovative percussive patterns ensure these producers can never quite be pigeonholed. As on The Line Path, EP3 begins with two of Double Helix’s finest cuts, with spare sounds and fractured beats creating a heady atmosphere. There’s always been a sense of noir-ish curiosity to his sounds, and these tunes are no different. Matrix-sampling Supreme Architecture is a darkly nuanced number with tumbling percussive rhythms and an extended intro. The sense of mood here is unparalleled, with yowling vocals and shifting details always keeping you on your toes, and a deep low end adding to the fantastic sense of space within the sound. Follow-up LDN references early Dubstep pioneers more heavily but comes out the stronger track; as dubbed-out chords echo off into a darkness with spare clicks and a far-off filtered cry accenting the soundfield. The ability to create  a sound that is so evocatively spare while using such rich sounds and textures has always been one of Double Helix’s strongest points, and both of these tunes do credit to the compliment.

Amen Ra’s Essence Investigation is a typically strange tune that places Eastern melodic touches on a loping bed of fractured Hip Hop beats, and bears repeated listens to appreciate the true depth and attention to detail on offer here. It becomes a little repetitive towards the close, but the fine sounds on display should be enough to tide you over. The highlight of the EP comes unexpectedly from No Fixed Abode on his LHF debut with Indian Street Slang. This track takes the Eastern referencing to a new level; with Indian melodies through vocals and horns running over a skeletal percussive line, topped off by gorgeous returning accents such as the huge declining screech and the loungey jazz keys signalling each drop. On this EP LHF fuse not only genres but also cultures, and to my mind only such a cross-pollination could truly represent the ‘London sound’. This is a superb selection of brave and individual tracks, so give it a listen and join me to wait with bated breath for their debut double-LP, out in April.


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Monday, 5 March 2012

February Roundup

It’s that time of the month again. February has been as explosive as ever with loads of big artists emerging from their winter hibernation, and I’ve got a fantastic selection of tunes this month. Kicking off with the biggest tunes are upbeat House offerings from Huxley, Scuba (x2) and John Talabot. Next we delve into Bassier territories with GoldFFinch’s best track to date, followed by a darker Techno turn; featuring huge tracks from heavyweights Objekt, Model 500 (Juan Atkins), Shed and SIgha. Next some glorious Deep House courtesy of Dusky, Matthew Dekay and Christian Löffler, followed by some cerebral cuts from Synkro and Shlohmo. It’s all topped off with an extraordinary new cut from Burial and The Field’s magnificent Cries (released as Loops Of Your Heart), and I hope you get as much out of February’s treasure trove as I did.

Huxley – Let It Go
Scuba – The Hope
John Talabot – Destiny feat. Pional
Scuba – NE1BUTU
GoldFFinch – Funky Steppa
Objekt – Cactus
Model 500 – The Messenger
Machinedrum – What U Wanted 2 Feel
Shed – RQ-170
Sigha – How To Disappear
Dusky – Lost Highway
Matthew Dekay & Lee Burridge -  Für Die Liebe
Christian Löffler – Aspen
Above & Beyond – Love Is Not Enough (Synkro Remix)
No Fixed Abode – Indian Street Slang
Shlohmo – Wen Uuu
Burial – Loner
Loops Of Your Heart - Cries

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